C+

Top Chef: Power Lunch

Scott Tobias picked a mighty fine week to to pass over Top Chef coverage while he's out presenting Lost Highway at the Music Box in Chicago. "Power Lunch" was anything but powerful—a dry, flat episode symptomatic of the series' mid-season drag. The excitement of a new season of chefs has passed, and I for one am stuck firmly in ambivalence about most of the chefs, waiting for the more mediocre ones to pack their knives and go, generally annoyed by this smirking group. (Can we please have at least one aw-shucks, nice-guy chef next time? I nominate Kevin Gillespie as a prototype-requirement for future seasons.)

Tonight's episode lacked the excitement of the last, with two snoozy challenges pegged around deal-making in D.C. For the quickfire challenge, the chefs had to build a bite on a toothpick for Aaron Schok, the youngest (and perhaps prettiest) member of Congress. Even Amanda admits being bored by the challenge, and by hors d'oeuvres in general for that matter. Angelo not surprisingly took the title and won immunity, even with his not-so-modern bite in a cucumber cup. Near-winner but sore-loser Kevin retorts, "If they like eating Chinese food all the time, so be it!" Never mind that Angelo's flavors aren't really all-Chinese all-the-time. More than one country in Asia, pal.

On to the elimination challenge, in which the chefs were challenged, more or less, to cook whatever they wanted with a fairly typical protein—or in Top Chef speak, a power lunch for a bunch of D.C. movers and shakers in a restaurant known for big-deal brokering. Two chefs per protein, split among lamb chops, lobster, salmon, porterhouse steak, and swordfish. It wasn't a head-to-head challenge, the judges insisted, but the proteins were served side by side, inviting inevitable comparison between the two. Among the judges is a newly skinny Art Smith, present primarily to judge the amount of love that went into the dishes.

The lobsters and a missing pea purée drove the mild drama of this episode, with Ed stressing about breaking down the gigantic lobsters in time and then realizing that his precious pea purée had gone missing. Weirdo chef Alex was implicated in the process, and the editors have chosen not to show us any footage of either Alex puréeing any peas or stealing it from the fridge or whatever. Thanks, guys! We did however get a desaturated flashback shot in which we saw that, yes, he did know that Ed was going to purée some peas. This did come to head nicely, though, with the two of them on the winning block alongside Ed ally (and my personal favorite) Tiffany. The pea purée won the dish for Alex, with the other two glaring. For the most part, the rest of the dishes took a backseat to the pea drama, with very little time spent on the better or worse dishes. Even Tom's summary of the "behind the scenes" was lacking; things were sloppy, people were running around, throwing things around. Just like any other episode of Top Chef.

Andrea headed home tonight for a goopy swordfish with overcooked couscous and an elimination-worthy vanilla flavor. Gayle slammed it home with this: "If we wanted to taste food that you cook every day, we'd just come to your restaurant." Ouch.

Grade: C+

Stray observations:
-- Agreed Amanda should go home. Tired of her antics. Ditto Angelo, but I suppose that's not happening since he's both our villain and one of the best chefs remaining.
-- Did Andrea's t-shirt have bacon as the crossbones?
-- Thought it was a good point about Amanda taking the bone out, therefore altering the porterhouse definition. Surprised the judges didn't care or notice.

More TV Club